Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

It's becoming tougher and tougher to tell Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto apart.

Joe Maddon has seen a bit of Votto in Rizzo for years and that has never been the case more than the first couple months of the 2017 season.

The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has led the league in walks four times and on-base percentage five times. Rizzo has yet to accomplish either feat in his seven-year career, but he's taken his offensive profile to Votto levels this season.

Votto is the only player in baseball with a better walk-to-strikeout ratio among qualified hitters.

Rizzo has 39 walks compared to only 31 strikeouts, on pace for 102 free passess and 81 whiffs, both of which would easily surpass his previous career bests (78 walks, 105 strikeouts).

Since May 19 — a span of 89 plate appearances — Rizzo has struck out just five times while drawing 14 walks and posting a .438 on-base percentage. 

That's a stark contrast to the changes baseball has seen over the last couple years where strikeouts are at an all-time high as everybody focuses on exit velocity and hitting the ball in the air. Gone are the days where almost every guy choked up on the bat and tried to shorten his swing with two strikes to just put the ball in play.

"He takes it seriously," Maddon said. "He definitely is a throwback when it comes to that method. I think it's beautiful. Him and Votto within our division probably do that as well as anybody I've seen over the last several years.

"Really adapting to the count and not trying to do too much in the count. Literally taking what the pitcher is giving you at that point."

That approach helped the Cubs Sunday as Rizzo keyed the charge to bust out of their losing streak and offensive slump with a first-inning double on the 10th pitch of an at-bat against Antonio Senzatela. 

Rizzo got down in the count (1-2) before choking up and shortening up, fouling off four of the next six pitches before he got one he liked, depositing it into the right-field corner and giving the Cubs a much-needed lead and breath of fresh air.

He nearly accomplished the same thing Saturday when he reached out and blooped a two-strike pitch into shallow left field, bumping Kris Bryant to third base with only one out, but the Cubs failed to cash in on that scoring opportunity.

Maddon would like to see more Cubs players follow in Rizzo's footsteps, especially given the Cubs' offensive struggles this season.

Rizzo has already seemingly had an impact on Bryant — the reigning National League MVP — who has cut down on his strikeouts for the second straight season and is now walking more than ever.

"There's nothing wrong with choking up," Maddon said. "There's nothing wrong with shortening up. There's nothing with making adaptations during an at-bat in order to move the baseball. That's all appropriate. It's good.

"I love the fact that either the best or the second-best hitter on the team does those things. Even to the point where I love when minor-league guys watch him within our organization and hopefully wanna emulate him.

"It's a mindset, man. It's something that you have to be willing to do — understand it, understand why you're doing it. It was really a big part of the fabric of the game for a while among many players in the lineup. Now, it's just a couple guys that are able to do it."

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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